Reuben Fine (October 11, 1914, New York City, – March 26, 1993, New York City) was one of the best chess players in the world during the 1930s, and an International Grandmaster. He was also the author of several chess books which are still popular today. After World War II, he studied psychology, and wrote successful books in that field as well.
Fine was born in New York City to a poor Russian-Jewish family. He learned to play tournament level chess at the famous Marshall Chess Club in New York City, stomping grounds for many famous grandmasters like Bobby Fischer, later on. At this stage of his chess career Fine played a great deal of blitz chess, and he eventually became one of the best blitz chess players in the world. Even in the early 1930s, he could just about hold his own in blitz chess against the then world chess champion Alexander Alekhine, although Fine admitted that the few times he played Alekhine's predecessor José Raúl Capablanca, the latter beat him "mercilessly". After graduating from City College of New York, at age 18, where he was a brilliant student, and where he captained CCNY to the 1931 National Collegiate team title, Fine decided to try the life of a chess professional for a few years.
Although active in U.S. tournaments, he was never able to finish first in the U.S. championship, usually placing behind his great American rival, Samuel Reshevsky. However, Fine's international tournament record in the 1930s was superior to Reshevsky's. By 1937, he had won a string of international tournaments, and was one of the most successful players in the world. He had represented the U.S. in three Chess Olympiads where the U.S. team finished in first place (Folkestone 1933, Warsaw 1935, Stockholm 1937). In 1938, Fine tied for first place with Paul Keres in the prestigious AVRO tournament in the Netherlands, with Keres placed first on tiebreak. This was one of the most famous tournaments of the 20th century, and some believe to this day that it is the strongest tournament ever staged. It was organized with the hope that the winner of AVRO, a double round-robin tournament, would be the next challenger to world champion Alexander Alekhine. Fine finished ahead of future champion Mikhail Botvinnik, current champion Alekhine, former world champions Max Euwe and Capablanca, and Grandmasters Samuel Reshevsky and Salo Flohr. Fine won both of his games against Alekhine.
As World War II interrupted any prospects for a world championship match, Fine turned to chess writing. In 1941 he wrote Basic Chess Endings, a compendium of endgame analysis which, more than 60 years later, is still considered one of the best works on this subject. His The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings, though badly dated, is still useful for grasping the underlying ideas of many standard chess openings. During World War II Fine worked for the U.S. Navy, performing the Pynchonesque task of calculating the probability of German U-boats surfacing at certain points in the water.
After the war, Fine briefly resumed his professional chess career. After Alekhine died in 1946, FIDE (the world chess organization) organized a World Chess Championship tournament to determine the new champion. As co-winner in the AVRO tournament, Fine was invited to participate, but he declined, for reasons that are the subject of speculation. Publicly, Fine stated that he could not interrupt work on his doctoral dissertation in psychology. Negotiations over the tournament had been protracted, and for a long time it was unclear whether this World Championship event would in fact take place. Fine wrote that he didn't want to spend many months preparing and then see the tournament cancelled. However, it has also been suggested that Fine declined to play because he suspected there would be collaboration among the three Soviet participants to ensure that one of them won the championship. In the August 2004 issue of Chess Life, for example, GM Larry Evans gave his recollection that "Fine told me he didn't want to waste three months of his life watching Russians throw games to each other."
Fine was named an International Grandmaster in 1950, on the inaugural list from the World Chess Federation. His last significant tournament was the Maurice Wertheim Memorial in New York in 1951, which he won.
Regardless, after receiving his doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California Fine abandoned professional chess to concentrate on his new profession. His last major tournament was New York 1951, which he won. Fine continued playing chess casually throughout his life (including a friendly game played in 1963 against Bobby Fischer, which is included in Fischer's My Sixty Memorable Games). In his short chess career, Fine had a plus record versus current and former world champions, scoring more than 50% against Lasker, Alekhine and Botvinnik, and breaking even with Capablanca.
In 1956 he wrote an article, "Psychoanalytic Observations on Chess and Chess Masters," for a psychological journal. Later, Fine turned the article into a book, The Psychology of the Chess Player, in which he provided insights steeped in Freudian theory. (Fine is not the first person to examine the mind as it relates to chess—Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, had studied the mental functionality of good chess players, and found that they often had enhanced mental traits, such as a good memory.) He went on to publish A History of Psychoanalysis (1979) and a number of other books on psychology. Like many psychoanalysts of his day, Fine believed that homosexuality could be "cured", and his opinions on the subject were cited in legal battles over homosexuality, including the legislative battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii.